The Corner

Thumbing It

I’ve been receiving quite a bit of mail about hitchhiking. Why’s that? Because of how Impromptus ends today:

Not so long ago, this country was full of hitchhikers. People hitchhiked all over the country. Especially young people — that was how you saw the country, if you didn’t have very much money.

There came a time when you couldn’t: It was just too dangerous. Such a shame.

It is a shame, yes, that you can’t hitchhike. But you know what is the bigger shame? That you can’t pick up hitchhikers. You want to stop and help someone, give him a lift. You may even desire the company. But is it wise?

As you can imagine, readers have been sending in stories about hitchhiking — about their hitchhiking experiences long ago. These stories could make a neat little book. Many readers say something like the following: “Hitchhiking was a great way to get to know America — the land and its people. I’ll never forget it.”

I’d like to publish one letter, which brought me up a little short. See what you think. It’s food for thought, at a minimum:

Jay,

I take issue with your comments about why the incidence of hitchhiking has dropped off so dramatically. You state that “there came a time when you couldn’t: It was just too dangerous.” Don’t you think it’s more likely that hitchhiking was perceived to be more dangerous, when in fact nothing had changed?

My sister laments that she could never let her daughter out unsupervised, to play as we played when we were growing up — because of all the creeps and perverts and thugs around. So I asked her to name one incident of recent times — one incident of murder or abduction, etc. She could not.

Because of nonstop coverage of these things on cable TV, when something does happen somewhere in the country, there’s a feeling that there must be an overall rise in crime, that every neighborhood is affected.

I don’t think hitchhiking became more dangerous. I think we just know about every unfortunate outcome for a hitchhiker or a driver who picks one up.

I don’t know. But interesting.

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